At the confluence of three rivers in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, there is a legendary district called Bishu. For centuries, some of Japan’s finest textiles have been woven there. Wool is a particular specialty. Rows of textile mills line the waterways, arranged in a jagged, sawtooth-like structure so that sun can pour in through skylights at certain points of the day allowing the weavers the perfect light to inspect their craft. Once the area produced mostly cotton. When the demand for wool increased in WWI, that fiber assumed top billing.
The weavers of Bishu have a knack not just for producing world-class wool fabrics, but for reusing wool fibers. Wool was hard to come by in Japan hundreds of years ago, so expert weavers would refashion the wool into new fibers when a garment had become damaged or otherwise reached its end of life. Called “regenerative wool” today, the practice involves sorting through individual pieces of wool fabric and selecting the best bits to be woven into entirely new yards of material.
Regenerative wool is the centerpiece of a new apparel company, Beringia, that launched last month. If you’ve spent much time in snowy Hokkaido, Japan, you’ve probably seen technical apparel from Teton Bros., a line of ski gear designed with an eye toward minimalist aesthetics and impeccable quality. The founder, Nori Suzuki, has teamed with Montana-based wool-lover Robert “Bernie” Bernthal, who co-founded the wool brand Duckworth, to create Beringia.
The idea is similar to what Teton Bros. brings to Japan: minimalist aesthetic built simply for performance. Much of what Beringia makes is tailored for backcountry skiers in deep powder. Accessible pockets, no-fuss designs, just well-made pieces that work without the wearer thinking much about it.
Beringia makes down insulated jackets and pants and ski gear made for inclement weather, but it’s that wool that has our attention.
We’ve been wearing the Farallon Wool Plaid shirt for over a month now and it showcases how versatile high-quality wool can be. This isn’t the piece to wear for a deep powder snowshoe mission to an alpine hut, or a day slashing chest-high powder. But we’ve worn it for light snowshoeing, all-day drizzly hikes, even long mountain bike rides on frigid mornings. The wool breathes, the shirt moves well with remarkable arm articulation. and well-thought-out touches like an airy chest zipper make it more than just a flannel shirt—it’s a legit performance piece. That’s not something we’re used to saying when it comes to flannel button-downs.
More importantly, it speaks volumes for what talented weavers can do with recycled fibers. More than most things you’ll wear, the wool fibers truly are upcycled in a garment like the Farallon. It’s a blend of 70 percent regenerated wool and 30 percent synthetic fibers, and somehow you can tell that the shirt is an upgrade from whatever the wool was woven into in its previous life. It doesn’t necessarily feel softer than other wools, or warmer. Just better somehow. Which it should, really, considering each wool fiber in the shirt has been hand-selected.
Nobody yet knows what the outdoor industry is going to look like in the coming decades as those of us who spend huge amount of time playing in the backcountry reflect on our choices, to travel, to produce waste, to consume materials. Recycled and regenerated materials are clearly going to be a big part of that future. It makes sense then that an apparel maker would lean heavily on a tradition of reusing scarce products, like a centuries-old reclaimed wool tradition.